The only acceptable form of ideology is the ideology I practice, which is no ideology.
The only acceptable form of ideology is the ideology I practice, which is no ideology.
One aspect of the mathematical brilliance of Kafka’s work can be seen by envisioning his moral theorization as an infinite series.
He starts by saying something either profoundly absurd or profoundly brilliant (both of which can be seen as equally opposite and important), and then takes it back in a certain respect, only to attempt to say something more profound based on the initial assumption. In that sense, it becomes nearly impossible to end a Kafkaesque story properly, since an infinite series is, by definition, infinite.
It’s amazing, then, that he felt he could publish anything at all, considering his near infinite respect for logic, mathematics, and reason.
Viewing his work as such, his best works are the ones that bring the reader to an understanding of the infinite series he’s attempting to elucidate to the point where their asymptotic approach toward truth becomes obvious.
If you find yourself a warrior against illogic, know that you may die. Illogic has immense power.
Just know that logic makes sense and will therefore always be more powerful at root.
I had this convo with a budding terrorist online.
Please read it. These “Sovereign Citizens” are the ideologically murderous scum whom radical Libertarians and the Tea Party foster. They are hate groups. Make no mistake. It’s the reason they spawn hate groups.
A friend of mine recently directed me to a movie on Netflix streaming. Ben Stein put it together and it’s called “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”. It’s a smartly parsed lie. Here’s the email I sent back to my friend. Thought you might like to read it. I’d advise watching the movie first, though. It’s fun. You’ll probably love it and hate it at the same time, just like I did.
I saw that Ben Stein thing. I have to admit that it was an illuminating exploration of how intimations of giving ID even the smallest credibility ruined careers.
There are several problems with his general line of thinking in putting the movie together, though. I’ve delineated them in this email for you if you’d like to hear the counter-perspective.
If you don’t feel like reading this email, I’ll understand. It’s long and boring. The thing is, that’s what Ben is counting on – that the casual viewer of his movie won’t go to the trouble of acquiring the information I’m sending you in this email. That’s the power of his oversimplification; it’s too easy to digest.
Problem 1: Ben’s Purposeful (and Hypocritical) Distortion of Current Panspermia Theories
Ben attributed panspermia to aliens “seeding” the planet with blue-green algae and then implied that the idea was stupid. He later went on to pose the idea that there is a nonzero probability that a “designer” may have had something to do with the complex structure of the cell coming together. That means aliens did it (God technically being an alien, if that’s what he meant to imply, and if he meant to imply “God or aliens did it”, then he was implying aliens could have done it by default). Thus, he panned his own idea before he even brought it up. That’s just poor argumentation and bad filmmaking to boot.
Panspermia doesn’t require that aliens “seed” the planet. It’s been conclusively proven that bacterial life has the ability to survive the deep freeze of space and then be reanimated when conditions for life are better. The seeded bacteria easily could have been buried in comets that came about as a result of another world of water being destroyed hundreds of millions of years before our star formed. The only way we’ll be able to test this hypothesis is to get to the Kuiper belt (out by Neptune and Pluto – about 3 – 6 billion miles from here), and possibly the Oort Cloud (a cloud of trillions of icy bodies between 0.5 and 1.5 light years away from and surrounding the sun), and crack open a few thousand ice balls until we find bacteria inside.
If panspermia is a credible theory, we’ll still have to figure out how all those pieces came together in the first place. Did some sort of energetic or silicon-based life form create the blue-green algae cell for its own purposes on some other ancient planet that was destroyed in a supernova? If so, how did that weird, super-intelligent form of life pop into being? No clue. Did abiogenesis happen on that ancient planet? Shrug. Even if panspermia pans out, we will most likely never know.
I’ll posit my own theory here as to why blue-green algae may have been fabricated on some ancient planet. One thing that blue-green algae are particularly good at is trapping atmospheric carbon in salt water. It was so good at doing so that it was able to trap almost all atmospheric CO2 on Earth over the period of about three billion years that was created during the tumultuous heat dissipation process. That is a fuckload of CO2. In doing so, it also oxygenated the entire ocean and, by default, our atmosphere (photosynthesis makes sugar and oxygen out of CO2, some very basic nutrients, and sunlight). If it were created by some underwater intelligence on an ancient planet, that may have been why.
In fact, the bacteria were so good at their job that about 700 million years ago, atmospheric CO2 levels dropped so drastically that the temperature of Earth plummeted in a runaway anti-greenhouse effect. The entire planet was enveloped in a tremendous ice sheet (think Hoth from “Star Wars”). Only a small number of blue-green algae colonies survived on sunlight peeking through ice sheets at the equator. It took about 50-75 million years for enough atmospheric CO2 to build up again (from volcanoes) to melt that sheet and create a version of the Earth that is similar to what we live in today. That was the beginning of multicellular life as we know it and what we called the “Precambrian era.” It was followed by the Cambrian explosion about 100 million years later when most phyla we know today popped into existence.
In essence, blue-green algae terraformed our atmosphere and oceans, making them habitable for the life that proceeded them.
Problem 2: Ben’s Purposeful Distortion of Abiogenesis Probabilities
Abiogenesis, the idea that he was primarily attacking using his slot machine analogy, is a much more complicated and multi-step process than he alluded to in the film. The current theories do not have a cell magically popping into existence out of a bunch of precursor chemicals. That would just be outright fucktardery. It has been proven pretty conclusively that ancient Earth conditions could pretty easily have created the set of chiral chemicals and cell structures individually and that they may have somehow coalesced over time. Several hundred million years is a long time for stuff to happen and the surface of the Earth is a gigantic place in comparison to the size of bacteria. Ben’s slot machines would have been pulled over and over again, literally trillions of trillions of times. Current abiogenesis theory cuts that set of 250 slot machines into several sets of one to two dozen, thus increasing the probability that abiogenesis could have happened by about 10 orders of magnitude over his purposely overly-simplistic 250 slot machine analogy.
We also have to recognize that Mars and Venus were viable places for life to begin and that planetary bombardment may have sent bacteria into space that could have landed on Earth, and vice versa. In fact, some cell precursors could have been made on either planet and could have traveled back and forth due to the large amount of planetary bombardment early in the formation of the solar system. Hence, the surface area on which this stuff could have happened is about two-and-a-half times larger than he gave credit for in the film. Furthermore, solar system formation is turning out to be even more tumultuous than we originally thought, meaning that there could have been one or two more Venus or Mars-like objects floating around in the solar system for hundreds of millions of years before they were ejected by Jupiter or some other gravitational event we don’t yet understand.
The idea of other large bodies being in the solar system and then being ejected is not as far-fetched as you might think. It has recently been pretty much proven that the reason Earth is so heavy in comparison to Mars and Venus is that an object that was similar to Mars slammed into Earth tangentially about four billion years ago, dumping most of its metallic core into the primordial Earth and flinging the leavings of the collision into orbit. These leavings coalesced into our moon. If you average the density of the moon and the Earth, you come pretty close to the density-to-size ratios of Mars and Venus. If you’d like to read more about this particular collision, look up the “Orpheus Impact” theory of moon formation.
Problem 3: Dawkins Was a Monumental Fucking Idiot during His Ben Stein Interview
Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist first, a philosopher second, and a mathematician third (or perhaps tenth – it’s not clear what his math skills are). Ben knew Dawkins’ math deficit and took full advantage of it. Where Richard obviously failed was in the understanding of the mathematics behind the null hypothesis and its relation to the God concept.
The null hypothesis is the most basic statistical science concept there is. I’m shocked they don’t teach it to third-graders today. That’s how easy it is to understand.
Simply put, if you want to set out to prove that something exists, you don’t start off by assuming that it exists and then try to prove yourself right. That would be complete fucking scientific ass-backwardness. You’d never get anywhere.
You start off by assuming that it doesn’t exist, and then you try to prove yourself wrong through accumulation of fact. If you can’t prove yourself wrong, then you have to stick to the premise that what you’re looking for doesn’t exist until you can prove yourself wrong.
When Ben asked Dawkins what probability he assigned to the nonexistence of God, Dawkins said “99%”. I couldn’t believe it when Dawkins fell for that. What a fucking nimrod. Of course, Ben went in for the kill at that point, asking “why not 49%?” Ben’s logic there is indisputable. If you’re going to assign a probability to something with no mathematical backup for it, then your probability could be anything.
What Dawkins’ answer should have been was “That probability doesn’t exist mathematically. It can’t. Until someone comes up with facts that can assign a probability to it, we have to assume that the answer to your question doesn’t exist. That’s the whole point of atheism. If you have no facts to back up your assertion that some sort of deity exists, then you have to assume that the assertion has no proof attached to it, and thus, a probability of DNE (Does Not Exist – you may recognize this nomenclature from algebra – it’s a completely valid answer to any number of mathematical problems) is the only appropriate mathematical designation you can assign to it.”
Dawkins is an effete snob. He’s smug. He’s a dick. He’s obviously bad at math. This constellation of personality attributes, however, doesn’t make him wrong.
Problem 4: Ben’s Characterization of Intelligent Design Advocates As a Largely Heterogeneous Group Is Patently Deceitful
ID advocates are creationism advocates; there is no separation. I don’t even like using the terminology “Intelligent Design” as the term itself was designed to insult my intelligence. However, let’s, for now, put aside my scientific prejudices and look at the facts behind the creationism movement.
In the movie, Ben tried to characterize members of the Discovery Institute as a blend of people with different philosophies – as a salad bowl of faiths and non-faiths. While the peons may have slightly different backgrounds (and I’m sure there is a token agnostic there to be paraded about like the one black guy who showed up at the Republican National Convention, probably because he knew he’d be on TV), the leaders of the movement do not. The leaders are all devout Christians.
There is a Discovery Institute publication called “The Wedge Document”. Look it up. Read it. If it doesn’t scare you, it should; it’s terrifying. It’s the Discovery Institute’s manifesto. Everyone there is attempting to become part of the wedge. Make no mistake; they are monolithic in their efforts.
If you read it, you will have no choice but to agree with me that it is not a scientific document. It is a political document. Now, why on Earth would the manifesto of a scientific organization be political? I’ll tell you why. It wasn’t written by scientists. It was obviously written by evangelical Christians who are attempting to put their version of creation into a scientific curriculum. The fact that they’re doing so before any field research is even done on the topic should tell you everything you need to know about the Discovery Institute.
They are not scientists.
They are missionaries, one and all.
Problem 5: Nazis?!? What the FUCK, Ben?!?!?
I won’t even speak to the connection Ben made between Darwinian theory and Nazism. To do so would just be irresponsible.
Thanks for recommending the movie to me. I loved it and hated it at the same time. Leave it to the religious to create a work of art like that. Just keep in mind that Ben’s movie was not really meant to inform. It was meant to make you feel, and he definitely succeeded in doing so.
Talk to you soon.
Here’s a quote from your article.
“I still disagree with the governor on women’s rights. Should he become president, I’m going to rely on the power of the American people to protect women from those who would set the clock back.”
I don’t think you get this issue as well as you need to, Cat. NOW is the time to rely on the American people and yourself to protect you from those who would destroy your reproductive rights. If you put into office someone of the ideology that those rights shouldn’t exist, don’t be surprised if they begin to disappear RAPIDLY and NEVER come back. Your vote is the only thing standing between your reproductive system and a brutal, theocratic, and plutocratic political machine.
Will having another four years of Obama mean another four years of gridlock? Possibly. In fact, it’s likely. But would you rather have large governmental body making it their Godsent mission to preclude you from your choices as a woman, or another four years of slow, steady, and likely rocky economic growth while retaining your rights?
I’d have to go with retaining my civil rights versus a high risk of putting someone into a position of high influence who may or may not attack those rights and may or may not succeed in affecting the economy positively anyway.
We know that Obama can help deliver slow, steady economic growth. He’s done it successfully for the past four years without the help of Congress. He can do it again.
On the other hand, Romney has promised to implement austerity measures to begin balancing the budget. If you haven’t already researched how the EU has been affected by austerity, you really need to start. That’s the path he wants to go down. Europe already went there and it drove them into an economic swamp out of which they’re still trying to struggle.
Please reconsider. Don’t put someone in office who will likely run our fragile economic rebound into a ditch in an effort to save it while trampling on your rights because he just got some big trampling boots to try out. It’s not worth the risk.
What do I believe? I’m not so sure. The more I think about everything, the less I believe in general and the more I realize I rely on belief, even though I don’t want to. But what exactly is “belief”? It has all sorts of definitions if you go to Dictionary.com, but I’ll give you an operational definition for the sake of this opinion piece, and it’s a definition that has commonality among all usages.
Belief is the acknowledgement of a reality absent objective proof.
Let that sink in for a bit.
Have you let that definition roll around in your brain a little? If not, read it again and then just sit for about five seconds and think about it.
The general gist I’m hoping you glean from that sentence is that everything you believe has little or no objective support for its basis in reality.
Okay; now let that italicized portion sink in.
I apologize to the philosophers reading this rant, since this topic is something you’ve probably analyzed ad nauseam. The vast majority of the rest of us have not, though, and it’s important that we start. You don’t have to be a brainiac to do so, either, and analyzing your beliefs is not something reserved for the “liberals” among us or the intellectual elite. It’s something we all should do regularly. We just don’t because we’ve been taught that they’re sacrosanct. We’re generally good about brushing our teeth and getting our hair cut. Most of us vacuum our rugs and keep our kitchens relatively clean. We throw out socks that have huge holes in them. We mostly have pretty well-organized lives on the outside, but on the inside, almost all of us are a complete mess, and it’s time that should change.
Let’s narrow down what a belief is by differentiating it from a fact-based assumption. It’s a fact-based assumption that I’m sitting on a chair right now. I know it with near certainty because my ass feels cushioned and is propped up about 17 inches off the floor. I can’t be totally certain that I’m sitting on a chair since I’m not currently looking at it, but based on external criteria that are logically verifiable (i.e., it looked like a chair the last time I saw it and then proceeded to sit on it) I can make a very safe, fact-based assumption that a chair is between my tailbone and the floor.
I find it odd that I’m currently trying not to look at the chair.
Yep. I looked. It’s a chair.
However, I don’t “believe” there is a chair under me. I don’t need belief to know that I’m on a chair since I have relatively conclusive, objective proof (assuming my senses are working properly) that I’m sitting on one.
I know it sounds strange to say, but even though I know I’m sitting on a chair, I don’t believe I’m sitting on one because the conclusion that I am can be safely drawn from an accumulation of readily available facts. I don’t need to go through the laborious process of developing a belief structure surrounding my separation from the floor because I have a conclusive agglomeration of facts that allows me to avoid doing so.
Now that I’ve said the same thing in about seven different ways, I hope you’re at least beginning to guess where I’m going next.
If you ask a young physicist if he “believes in” the “Big Bang,” he’ll usually say, “Sure. I mean, I’m a physicist. Why wouldn’t I?” It would be a trick question, though. He wouldn’t know that I’m really prodding him about the concept of belief rather than his opinion on the preponderance and quality of evidence in support of the “Big Bang” theory.
The reason he’d answer that way is that he’s a physicist, not a philosopher. (I’m not claiming to be a philosopher, by the way. I’m just some guy typing away at a keyboard who is trying to get a point across.) He doesn’t intuitively get that he doesn’t require belief per se to understand that all of spacetime began as a singularity about 13.7 billion years ago. He’s seen the evidence and knows the stringent requirements for statistical scientific certainty. He knows it firsthand and even aspires to develop a thesis that will withstand the stark fist of logic and rigorous standards wielded by the general scientific community.
Yet still, he’ll claim that he “believes in” the “Big Bang.” And therein lies the rub. Even those among us with high IQs and immediate access to all the quality information required to make such an assertion will still claim that “belief” is somehow involved in the equation.
Why? Because we don’t understand the nature of belief. We don’t understand it because religion has confused us all. It’s made us forget who and what we are.
We are rational beings at root. Our brains eat up sensory input and process it into an information vortex. We live, eat and breathe information. We’re a product of information. We’re users of information. We’re analyzers and thinkers. We synthesize and evaluate naturally.
While it’s a fact that we’re emotional beings who can have irrational responses to stimuli, our irrational actions don’t indicate that we’re irrational at root. We think there’s a good reason to do things at the time we do them. We may do stupid stuff, but it’s because we choose to weigh certain stimuli more than others for selfish reasons, not because we’re inherently illogical. Ayn Rand may have been a heartless bitch, but she had a salient intellectual point; self-interest is rational.
But we can be lied to, and if we’re lied to enough, we begin to confuse lies with the truth. Our rational information matrix can be used against us because we can confuse repetition with reality. Just ask Philip Morris; they’re the experts in that arena.
Joseph Goebbels was the Nazis’ head spin doctor. He was the Karl Rove of the Third Reich. (I’d call him the James Carville of the Third Reich, but Karl’s politics are closer to Adolf’s than James’ are.) His now infamous quote has been cut and sliced so many ways that you may not have been given it in its entirety. I’ll give it here sans edits so that you won’t miss the bleak sociopolitical message that comes with it.
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
So, you may ask, what does this quote from a vile monster have to do with religion? He doesn’t even mention religion in the quote, right? That’s correct. He doesn’t. He doesn’t have to.
The connection is that we are not far removed from a time in which the church was the state. It still is in many places, especially economically depressed places where education as we know it doesn’t exist. From ancient times, for thousands of years, the church was the state. Only during the past few centuries have we begun to recognize the importance of their separation in a rational world.
To put that timeframe into perspective, Judaism is about 4,000 years old, and the Neanderthals died out about thirty thousand years before that. We know from cave paintings (one of which is my tiled background) that religion is old. Totemistic religions surrounding the hunt (the primary mechanism of control was food then) have been pretty much proven to be the reason for the cave paintings.
So, for more than 95% of traceable human history, the church has run everything. One could argue that the monarchs of the dark ages were secular, but they couldn’t do anything without the support of the Catholic Church. Most of them honestly believed that their reign was mandated by God and were thus bound to His rules anyway.
It’s only during the past few hundred years that the church has begun to separate itself from governance and with that separation came a certain perspective that the church in its complacent arrogance didn’t contemplate when it originally agreed to its solely spiritual mission. (I’d be complacently arrogant too if I had been running the show for 35,000 years unopposed.) It was so certain in its rectitude that it didn’t anticipate the beginnings of a rationalist movement. Fortunately for us, several of our forefathers (in particular Jefferson and Franklin) did.
They knew the hell that historically plagued humankind as a result of church rule. They chose to end it. The protestant church agreed because it didn’t want to deal with the corruption the Catholic Church had been plagued with for more than a thousand years. Fortunately, the protestant church was naïve. It didn’t know that decision would lead to the eventual loss of its flock.
You may think I’m premature in predicting the demise of the church. I’m not. I’ve seen the trends toward total social secularism and they’re not slowing down. They’re accelerating. One in five people in total these days in America doesn’t identify with a particular religious group and one in twenty self-identify as avowed atheists, and virtually none of them were brought up that way. The difference in these stats between older and younger age groups is staggering and undeniable, hence the severe neoconservative religious right backlash we’re experiencing now. I’m not the only one noticing the numbers, and if there’s one thing that scares an organization (and it’s the same thing that scares us the most as people) it’s its demise.
So, back to belief in general.
From the time we’re small, we’re told stories by well-meaning people, usually our parents, that aren’t true. We believe them because of our lack of experience. Usually our information matrix rejects the more seldom told lies (Santa, the Easter Bunny, the “cabbage patch”) as we get older and more experienced, but the ones told weekly, often daily, remain, especially because others we respect have incorporated them into their belief structure. Part of our logical processing consists of patterning our behavior after those who come before us, which makes sense since they have more experience than we do and have survived just fine. Then we have kids and the cycle repeats.
We also come to believe stuff because it’s a shortcut to a world view. We don’t have the patience to follow the “why” questions from little kids to their logical conclusion and instead give them illogical “shut ’em up” answers because it’s easier to do than give them a rational set of principles upon which to develop a Weltanschauung.
There’s another quote I’d like you to see that is directly on point. I’ll give you the quote first to see if you can guess who said it:
“I would defend the liberty of consenting adult creationists to practice whatever intellectual perversions they like in the privacy of their own homes; but it is also necessary to protect the young and innocent.”
Let’s see. He invented the concept of a satellite communication system that makes our planetary information infrastructure work today. He sometimes called himself a crypto-Buddhist, but asserted that Buddhism wasn’t a religion. He also wrote “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Oops. That probably gave it away.
He got the real crux of the issue: that children are impressionable and need to be given rational guidance, not lied to repeatedly about the provable nature of the universe. Doing so damages their logical processing capability to the extent that they are unable to distinguish between rationality and fantasy at a fundamental level, and they carry that disability with them the rest of their lives.
So, again, I ask. What do I believe?
I wish I had a complete list, but I don’t. My ability to distinguish between belief and fact-based assumption has been compromised, so I can’t give you an accurate answer, but I can start with something really basic.
I believe that love exists. There’s little experimental data on what “love” is, except for some hormonal covariances with emotional markers. The thing is, I know I love my family, my cats, and my friends, so there has to be something there. My belief in love creates its own reality. Is it objective reality? Certainly not, but it’s so important to me that I will likely never give it up. So it is with religion. Belief in religion creates its own subjective reality. Is it any wonder then that the religious will claim that “God is love?”
Another brilliant futurist (and devoutly religious Gnostic Christian / diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic) was Philip K. Dick, author of several stories that have since become a series of blockbuster sci-fi movies including “Total Recall” and “Paycheck.” A friend of his once asked him what “reality” was. His answer was simple and, on its face, eminently logical, but was also deeply flawed. Let’s see if you can get where I’m going with this line of reasoning while you read the quote:
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
Another quote of his which is important here is the following:
“The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words.”
Even one of the most poetically brilliant futurist philosophers of the 20th century can’t get the concept of reality straight. (The paranoid schizophrenia might admittedly have had something to do with that, too.) Is reality separate from belief as in the former quote, or is it based on belief as in the latter quote? His confusion on this point typifies the mental illness virtually all of us suffer from as a result of religious dogmatization from a young age. We can’t separate belief and reality because, to almost all of us, they are the same thing.
The problem is so deeply rooted in our psyches that we can’t really see the forest for the trees. So, what can we do about it as individuals? To continue the metaphor, first start looking for the sick and dead trees. Once you’ve identified them, don’t try to nurture then back to health. Cut them down. Replace them with a rational structure based on facts, not speculation. It’ll take work, but the potential payoff for us and our posterity is enormous, so we should make every effort to clean house where it counts the most.
The existence of God is not a fact. It just isn’t. No matter how many times you say it is, it just isn’t. There is no factual support for the God concept at all. There never has been. It’s all been a lie – a big one – told to you thousands and thousands of times, which is why you believe it. It is part of your reality that is nonsensical. Eliminate it from your mind and embrace rationality. Some day, you may be able to pass your newly found sanity on to a child who will benefit greatly from a rational early childhood foundation for thought.
When some annoying kid asks you “why” again and again, please don’t end with, “because that’s the way God made things” when you want to shut him up. At least have the decency to say, “I don’t know and I don’t think anyone else does either. Maybe you’ll figure that out one day.”